Traffic jams were reported in major cities across the country and long queues were seen at petrol stations on Wednesday as citizens rushed to refuel their vehicles ahead of the nationwide strike by the petroleum dealers association, which said fuel stations will remain closed in the country starting Thursday (today).
According to reports, traffic jams were witnessed in Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad and Rawalpindi. Social media was flooded with videos of people stuck in long queues outside fuel stations, while #petrol was among the top trends on Twitter.
Petroleum dealers announce strike
Earlier on Wednesday, the Pakistan Petroleum Dealers Association (PPDA) announced a nationwide strike and closure of fuel stations starting tomorrow (Thursday) over the government's failure to increase the dealers' profit margin.
However, the handout issued by the association did not mention when the strike will end. When Dawn.com contacted PPDA Chairman Abdul Sami Khan for clarity on the matter, he refused to give a definitive answer and said that a final decision will be taken tomorrow.
"The strike will begin at 6am tomorrow," he said.
According to the PPDA handout, a meeting of petrol dealers was held at Faletti's Hotel in Lahore on Saturday, where it was noted that the government had promised to raise the dealers' profit margin three years ago.
"The promise remains unfulfilled to date ... [and] now, because of [growing] inflation and increase in the prices of petroleum products, it has become difficult for dealers to run fuel stations," the press release read.
It added that the dealers had previously given the call for a strike from November 5 but had withdrawn it after after a government team, led by Minister for Energy Hammad Azhar, held a meeting with them on November 3 and agreed to fulfil their demands.
According to a Dawn report, the meeting had also constituted a committee led by Petroleum Secretary Dr Arshad Mahmood and comprising stakeholders to ensure the implementation of the agreement for the increase in margins through approval from the ECC and the federal cabinet by November 15.
In that meeting, the press release said, "the government had agreed to raise the profit margin by six per cent and sought time till November 17 to implement the decision".
"Dealers continued the supply of petroleum products in public interest, but five days have passed since the agreed date of November 17 and the government representatives don't seem serious," the statement said.
Govt says petrol will be available at all major outlets
On the other hand, a spokesperson for the petroleum ministry said that it had sent a summary to increase dealers' profit margin to the Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) and was awaiting approval.
He said that the ministry was working on increasing the profit margin of oil marketing companies and dealers, adding that the federal cabinet would take a decision in this regard within ten days.
"Fuel will be available at all Pakistan State Oil (PSO), Shell and Total stations in country,” he claimed, adding that oil tankers had been sent to these stations.
The Ministry of Energy added that petrol products will be available at PSO, Gas and Oil Pakistan Limited, Hascol and Shell's "company-operated" pumps.
Further, the Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority (Ogra) took notice of "entities striving to disrupt oil supplies at petrol pumps" on the pretext of an increase in dealers' profit margin.
In a statement, the regulator said that oil marketing companies had been advised to ensure uninterrupted oil supplies at retail outlets and Ogra enforcement teams were also in the field to ensure the same.
"Anyone involved in oil disruptions [or] causing public inconvenience shall be dealt [with] strictly [and] in accordance with Ogra laws," the regulator said.
Long queues at petrol stations in major cities
In anticipation of the strike, citizens flocked to petrol stations in major cities.
Muhammad Sadiq, a manager of a petrol filling station in Rawalpindi, told Dawn that some stations had depleted their stock due to the influx of customers. "People are buying extra fuel. Most citizens who came to the stations wanted to fill up the tanks [of their vehicles]," he said.
Nasir Hussain, a motorcyclist at Rawalpindi's Saddar area, said that he had rushed to the petrol station to buy fuel for an "emergency". He urged the petrol dealers and the government to find a solution as the strike would only make the common man suffer.
Former Khyber Pakhtunkhwa minister Ajmal Khan Wazir said he managed to get petrol after waiting for two hours outside a pump in Islamabad's F-11.
"Mad lines at petrol pumps, causing traffic jams, as people brace for petrol pumps going on strike," said journalist Hasan Zaidi.
"So now after an ongoing gas shortage, we have a general fuel shortage. Someone explain to me what exactly is this government competent at?"
Another Twitter account said the days of buying bicycles and selling cars were near.
Another citizen from Islamabad said that he had been waiting for an hour in a queue outside a petrol situation. "No petrol pump in Islamabad has a line that is less than one kilometre-long," he said.
Journalist Yasir Ilyas said there were long queues at almost every fuel station in the twin cities. "The only consistent progress, being shown by this regime is replacing one crisis with another," he said.
'Battle of our survival'
Meanwhile, head of the PPDA's Bahawalpur chapter, Muhammad Yaseen, also issued a statement, confirming that all fuel stations would be closed from 6am tomorrow.
He said no vehicles except ambulances and Rescue 1122 vehicles would be supplied fuel during the strike.
Terming the strike a "battle for our survival", he said the government had not taken any significant measures so far to meet the petrol dealers' demands and neither had it given them any "output" in this regard.
"Hence, it is now imperative that we close our businesses," he said. At this time, he added, petrol dealers across Pakistan were in agreement that their profit margin needed to be raised as it had become difficult to run fuel stations, given the increase in expenses.
He urged dealers to put up fences around fuel stations, stop procuring petroleum products and not to supply fuel to any person through any backdoor means. He added that teams would be constituted in Bahawalpur to monitor the strike.
Earlier, All Pakistan Petrol Pumps Dealers Association Information Secretary Nauman Ali Butt had confirmed the call for the strike.
Additional input by Tahir Sherani